Groups say 9 jailed activists tortured; police deny charges

By Niña Catherine Calleja
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 23:24:00 09/03/2008

CALAMBA CITY – A farmers’ group Wednesday assailed the alleged abduction and torture of nine of its organizers who were released from police custody on Tuesday afternoon.

The Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-ka or Farmers’ Confederation in Cavite) claimed that members of the Cavite police and the Regional Special Operations Group (RSOG) in Calabarzon seized and tortured its president and members on Sunday.

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Senior Supt. Wilfredo Reyes, head of RSOG-Calabarzon, said he didn’t know of the group’s claim.

“It is never our practice to torture suspects just to get information,” Reyes said.

Axel Pinpin, Kamagsasaka-ka information officer and one of the newly freed Tagaytay 5, said the police officers involved should be held accountable.

Police claimed the nine were arrested at a checkpoint in Barangay Tartaria in Silang, Cavite on Sunday. Firearms were allegedly recovered from them.

The nine were identified as Renato Alvarez, 63; Franco Romeroso, 27; Felipe Nardo, 24; Bernardo Derain, 36; Mario Joson, 55; Jommel Igana, 19; Yolanda Caraig, 48; Neshley Cresino, 27; and Janice Javier, 26.

Threats, torture

They were charged with illegal possession of firearms but were later released after the provincial prosecutor said the police failed to present evidence against them.

The Cavite Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (CEMJP) reported that the nine were abducted, harassed and tortured.

Diane Mariano, coordinator of the CEMJP, said the activists had just left Alvarez’s house and were bound for Tagaytay City when 20 armed men in police uniforms and aboard a van and a car blocked their path and told them to disembark from their vehicle.

The policemen allegedly tied and gagged them, and covered their eyes with packing tape.
The Inquirer tried to contact one of the activists but he refused to talk because of fear.

Mariano, who had interviewed the nine while accompanying them out of Camp Vicente Lim, told the Inquirer that the most frightening thing happened when the nine were inside the camp.

An official allegedly threatened Cresino with rape and ordered her to undress while Javier was asked to climb a concrete post when she refused to respond to police questioning.

“Janice knelt down to plead for her life when an officer pointed a gun at her nape,” Mariano alleged.

The officer later asked Javier if she knew how long a body would burn if it was set on fire, he added.

Electric current was reportedly applied on the heads and sex organs of Derain and Nardo, while they were being forced to say they were members of the communist New People’s Army.

Crippling peasant groups

“Nardo was later asked to dig their graveyard,” she claimed, adding that when she saw Nardo, he had bruises in the legs.

Pinpin said the continuing harassment was part of a plan to sow fear and cripple legitimate peasants’ and other people’s organizations.

The Kamagsasaka-ka and its counterpart, the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Batangas, are protesting land-use conversion cases in Cavite and Batangas.

“It is ironic that while the government is calling for the prioritization and development of agriculture in the country, agriculturists and peasant organizers are being killed, abducted or jailed,” he said.

Pinpin cited the cases of Jonas Burgos, an agriculturist, who remains missing until now; detained Randall Echaniz, deputy secretary general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, and Eduardo Serrano, a dairy industry agriculturist.

Pinpin and Aristides Sarmiento, also an agriculturist, and three others were jailed on a rebellion charge before they were released on Aug. 28 after a court dismissed the case.

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